Creating a Monster: Evolutions

I’ve expressed a lot of love for “here are X options; pick Y of them” features. They weren’t terribly common in 3E and they were absent entirely in 4E, but Pathfinder has a fair number of them, and I used that as an inspiration for my version of the healer class. Powered by the Apocalypse games really showed me how they can branch out, letting one playbook or class work for many characters. 5E is finally catching up, with similar mechanics in the fighter’s maneuvers, the sorcerer’s metamagic, and other places. The most thorough, in my opinion, is the warlock, which offers thirty options and lets a character pick eight of them, sometimes limited by their pact and patron. Of course I was going to borrow from it.

This, I think, is where the inflicted really takes off. The source and form help define a character with broad strokes, but evolutions (name subject to change) give them specific powers that pertain to a specific monster. An undead stalker can take powers that let them float around like a ghost, or hide their undead traits like a vampire, or soldier through combat like a zombie. And none of these monster-type comparisons are hard-coded. Evolutions don’t say “you gain wings, because you’re a were-bat”, they say “you gain a flight speed” and trust the player to explain it. It does mean the player can pull together some goofy combinations, and that’s fine. It’s not the class’ job to present only powers that make sense in any combination; it’s the class’ job to facilitate as many monsters as it reasonably can.

Evolutions work exactly like warlock invocations; characters get two of them at L2 and gradually gain more as they gain levels. I’m not married to this exact growth, but it’s a good place to start. There’s a lot of powers to discuss, so here we go:

Drag Along
You can move your full speed when you move a grappled creature of your size or smaller. If an effect removes a creature you are grappling from your reach, you can use your reaction to prevent the effect from moving the creature.

Prerequisites: 5th level
Whenever an effect pushes or pulls you, reduce the distance it pushes or pulls you by 5 feet.

I’m starting to understand just how relevant movement and positioning are in 5E, now that the five-foot-step is a thing of the past and characters can run literal circles around enemies with impunity. Things that let the inflicted manipulate the battlefield, or resist an enemy’s attempts to manipulate it, may seem weaker at first glance than direct-damage options, but they enable neat tricks other classes can’t perform. The picture I have in my head for these evolutions is of a hulking monster, strong enough to carry an enemy (or ally) and take a heavy blow without flinching, but they could just as easily be about getting leverage from strange anatomy or using outright telekinesis.

Also, in writing this blog post, I realize the opportunity for an evolution that increases the inflicted’s carrying capacity.

Innate Understanding
You can add your Wisdom modifier to any Intelligence checks you make to recall information about creatures related to your monstrous source.

Unnatural Cunning
You gain proficiency in the Insight and Perception skills.

I like skills, a lot. I even played a skills-based character in 4E, a game that doesn’t understand why anybody would make a Stealth check when they could instead summon a fireball through the power of swordplay. Thus “get two skill proficiencies” seems like a really powerful option to me, but the warlock gets something similar, so I assume it’s balanced. Adding multiple ability scores to a check is a weird game space that may not actually exist, but I see no reason it shouldn’t, and I wanted something more character-specific than a general “you get advantage” bonus. Besides, this stacks with advantage. An actual undead should be able to know more about other undead than a mere dilettante.

Minor Regeneration
When you roll a Hit Die to regain hit points, you regain 2 additional hit points per Hit Die you roll.

One Last Push
Prerequisites: 5th level
You die after four failed death saving throws instead of three.

We want the inflicted to be tough, but without adding brand-new mechanics like 3E-style damage reduction or crazy things like fast healing (at least, not at low levels). These seemed safer to me. I especially adore One Last Push; the concept of a character who survives things they definitely shouldn’t fits so well with the class concept as a whole. It may be my favorite evolution.

You can spend 1 savagery point to increase your reach by 5 feet until the beginning of your next turn.

Prodigious Leaper
You can spend 1 savagery point to cast jump on yourself.

Evolutions can also give characters ways to spend their savagery points. I want to give more limited use spells, basically the 5E version of spell-like abilities, but so few of them are sufficiently generic. Jump was one of the few I found that could work. Maybe if I add an aberration or fiend monstrous source, I can tie flashier spells to it.

Energetic Bite
Select one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, poison, psychic, radiant, thunder. When you use your Rending Strike to deal bonus damage, this damage can be of the selected type.

Improved Resistance
Prerequisites: 5th level
Select one of the damage types for which you have resistance from a class feature. You gain immunity to damage of the chosen type.

These are more “pick your own monster type” features. The things in the inflicted that handle energy damage are few and far between. This way, the were-fire beetle can have a fire power and the banshee can be immune to thunder damage without forcing every character to use energy types they don’t want.

I’m a little wary about offering damage immunity at L5, but if that’s a problem, I can always delay it until later.

Prerequisites: 15th level
You gain a fly speed equal to your walking speed. To use this speed, you can’t be wearing medium or heavy armor.

Yep, flight. I’m fine with this. If anything, I think L15 may be too late.

Prerequisites: Form of the Brute feature
When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can spend 1 savagery point as a reaction to become the target of the attack instead.

Extra Resistance
Prerequisites: 3rd level, Form of the Brute feature
Select one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, force, lightning necrotic, poison, psychic, radiant, thunder. You gain resistance to damage of the chosen type.

Now we get into the form-specific evolutions. Everything until now has been open to every type of inflicted, but these evolutions are restricted only to the brute. Protector gives the brute an actual defender-style power, but they can only use it if they sacrifice themselves, a limitation I really like. Extra Resistance is for characters who need to resist two things, like lightning and thunder, to make sense.

I realize that a character can really min-max this. An aasimar inflicted with the form of the brute and Extra Resistance can become resistant to radiant, necrotic, poison, and two other energy types of their choice. This is a risk I’m willing to take, but that character should have a better in-game justification than “I wanted to resist five energy types”. I have considered adding a restriction to it, like “you gain resistance, but only if you gain vulnerability to another damage type”. That’s less powerful and it enables characters like vampires who are vulnerable to radiant damage, but I don’t know how many players would accept that penalty.

Two-Weapon Combat
Prerequisites: 3rd level, Form of the Predator feature
You can add your Strength modifier to the damage of your second natural weapon.

Lash Out
Prerequisites: 12th level, Form of the Predator feature
You can spend 1 savagery point to make two attacks with your secondary natural weapon as a bonus action.

The predator is the damage-per-second build, so its evolutions naturally lend themselves to damage. I’m curious to know how other players would use Lash Out. I’m the sort of player who would only use it if I’m desperate to kill a very weak enemy or if I’m likely to miss and I want as many chances as possible to get my bonus damage, but I know other players who would use every single savagery point they have on Lash Out as rapidly as possible, ignoring other class features and acknowledging that this strategy limits their options for later in the day. Since the inflicted doesn’t get Extra Attack, I don’t think giving mid-level players a limited number of bonus attacks is that bad, but I don’t have a perfect grasp of the 5E power meta.

Prerequisites: 3rd level, Form of the Stalker feature
Your walking speed increases by 10 feet.

Prerequisites: 9th level, Form of the Stalker feature
You can spend 3 savagery points to cast freedom of movement on yourself.

The stalker is movement-based, so its evolutions affect movement. I tentatively had some stealth options in here as well, but I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t stolen directly from the rogue, the ranger, or a feat. I think I’d be happier with something stealth-based instead of Insuppressible if I could find one I liked.

Prerequisites: 9th level, Undead monstrous source
You are aware of the location of any living hidden or invisible creature within 10 feet of you.

Partial Incorporeality
Prerequisites: 12th level, Undead monstrous source
You can spend 2 savagery points to become incorporeal for 1 minute. While incorporeal, you can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. You take 1d10 damage if you end your turn inside an object.

These are the source-specific evolutions. Lifesense is just a more flavorful blindsense. Partial Incorporeality is like the monster ability Incorporeal Movement, with a slight tweak: because inflicted can become immune to force damage, this version does typeless damage. I’d be fine with an undead inflicted hanging out in a wall for several minutes, but I don’t think the system is.

Humanoid Form
Prerequisites: Lycanthrope monstrous source
You can cast alter self at will, but you can only change your appearance to a version of yourself without monstrous features.

Boy, the lycanthrope has a lot of powers that say “you can do X, but only with flavor restriction Y”. This is the current version of an evolution I planned to let players hide their monster features. It originally granted advantage on Deception checks to disguise the inflicted as a member of its original race, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this carried an implicit assumption that all inflicted were obviously monstrous. That makes sense for a zombie, but not for, say, a vampire. So I settled on this, which makes sense with the lycanthrope’s partially-animal nature but allows them to not look like a monster all the time.

…and it looks like I only thought of one evolution for lycanthropes. Huh.

Since the class’s beta release is imminent, I want to have more evolutions but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary. This is probably the place, besides ability names, where I’m most interested in what ideas people have to offer. I’m putting it all together now, and I plan to have a downloadable copy available soon, as long as I can figure out how.

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